Spenserian stanzas


A Spenserian stanza consists of nine lines, with the first eight being iambic pentameter and the last line using alexandrine form (iambic hexameter). The caesura frequently placed between the sixth and seventh syllables of the alexandrine allows the last line of each stanza to conclude it with a sense of finality. The rhyme scheme for this type of stanza is ‘abab bcbc c’.


This verse structure was first created by Edmund Spenser for his great work The Faerie Queene 1590. Chaucer had previously used quatrains, linking them by three rhymes (to which the later Spenserian stanzas were similar) in his stanza form for The Monk’s Tale; however Spenser’s addition of the concluding alexandrine created an additional emphasis.


  • Edmund Spenser (1552-1599) The Faerie Queen (1590)
And thou most dreaded impe of highest Jove,
Faire Venus Sonne, that with thy cruell dart
At that good knight so cunningly didst rove,
That glorious fire it kindled in his hart,
Lay now they deadly Heben bow apart,
And with thy mother milde come to mine ayde:
Come both, and with you bring triumphant Mart,
In loves and gentle jollities arrayd,
After his murderous spoiles and bloudy rage allayd.     

Each stanza within this poem has its own narrative and focuses on a certain event; however several stanzas are linked together with their common theme or subject matter. The alexandrine line provides a sense of conclusion before moving onto the next stanza.
  • The Eve of St Agnes (1819) by John Keats

.. Out went the taper as she hurried in;
Its little smoke, in pallid moonshine, died
She closed the door, she panted, all akin
To spirits of the air, and visions wide:
No utter'd syllable, or, woe betide!
But to her heart, her heart was voluble,
Paining with eloquence her balmy side; 
As though a tongueless nightingale should swell
Her throat in vain, and die, heart-stifled, in her dell. ..     
Two centuries after Spenser, Romantic poet John Keats uses the same stanza form effectively. Here, the drama of Madeline’s panting expectation which, as yet, has no outlet, is conveyed in the flow of the rhyme which is then ‘ensnared’ by the pauses and extra syllables of the last line.
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